Author Archives: Chandler Vannoy

Tune Out the Noise

noise

When was the last time you just sat quietly with no music, phone, TV or Internet to distract you? Think about just how often you grab your phone just out of habit when you have nothing else to do.

This morning I was sitting at my kitchen table finally slowing down and spending time with God when I read these words from Psalm 131, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul.” As I am reading this, I hear outside my window the sounds of construction equipment beeping, workers yelling, and hammers beating against the side of the building. In this moment, it hit me that noise is everywhere in our lives, and if we are not intentional about calming and quieting our souls before the Lord, it will never happen.

Our culture does not know how to sit in silence. We are scared of it because when we don’t have noise pouring into our lives, we finally have to do deal with the thoughts and feelings that we have been suppressing and running away from.

From the moment we wake up to the minute we lie down to sleep, we always have to have something occupying our mind and entertaining us.

What’s the first thing we do when we get up in the morning? Look at our phone. Then we hop in the car and turn up the music. While walking around campus or school, we have our headphones in our ears. At work, we have music on in the background. Then any downtime we do get, we have our face buried in our phones checking social media.

One study found that the average teenager spends over 7.5 hours a day on media, some even estimate up to 10.5 per day. I’d say this isn’t much different for all of us. That means we spend over 53 hours per week, and roughly 113 days per year on some sort of media.

So with all this social media and entertainment before us, surely we are satisfied right?

Not even close.

One study found that Americans are twice as likely today to say they are lonely compared to ten years ago. So actually social media has made us less social and more isolated.

Another stat says that 42% of all mobile phone users say they expressly use their phone for entertainment when they’re bored.

At Oxford, England’s Social Issues Research Centre, researchers say, that “by filling almost every second of down time by peering at our phones we are missing out on the creative and potentially rewarding ways we’ve dealt with boredom in days past.”

They would go on to say, “Informational overload from all quarters means that there can often be very little time for personal thought, reflection, or even just zoning out.”

Sadly, we are filling our boredom with noise that will never satisfy our desires. As Matt Chandler put it, “We are the most entertained generation ever, and yet the most bored. That unsatisfied heart should reveal that we were meant for more.”

With all of this said, we can see we are chasing after satisfaction from the wrong places. We are expecting the entertainment of this world to fill us up, but in the end, it is like training for a marathon and fueling our body with McDonalds. It will not sustain us.

The same goes for many of us as we are trying to live out a Christian life without ever quietly resting in God’s presence. And what God is asking from us is to simply turn down the noise in our lives and start listening to Him.

It is so easy to settle for momentary noise to temporarily fill our boredom instead of resting in the everlasting Father who fills us with His eternal peace.

So if we are going to do this, we must intentionally hit pause and assess our lives. This is straight from Scripture when it says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Eugene Peterson phrased the verse this way in the Message,

“Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
He plants flowers and trees all over the earth….
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God,
above politics, above everything.”

We need to step out of the traffic of our lives and take a break and simply, be still and keep our eyes on God.

How can you be still this week?

What if you put up your phone during the down time and instead used that time to pray?

What if instead of listening to the same songs on the way to school or work, you listened to the Bible app, and then prayed through those words the rest of the commute?

What if you kept a journal with you, and rather than checking Instagram, you wrote to God about what was going on in your heart?

What if you tuned out the noise of this world and tuned into the Creator of the universe?

All we have to do is be still…

I’d love to hear any other ways you have found helpful to disconnect from the busyness of the world and connect with God.

4 Wrong Reasons to Date

Dating is on the minds of almost every college student. If we are single, we walk into a room scoping out every corner for potential dating material. We are either dating or looking to date. Unfortunately, the culture of college tells us we always have to be on the look out, and because of this mindset, we jump into relationships before we are ready or with someone who does us more harm than good. In the end, we get hurt, and so do they. We lose track of who we are, and who we want to be. So before we commit ourselves to another person, let’s make sure we have our heart in the right place. Here are a few motivations that will lead us into a unhealthy relationship:

We Are Bored

Sometimes we just get lonely. While every one else is out on their date night, we have our own date with Netflix. And many times, we envy that other couple, not because of the relationship, but because they have someone they can always hang out with. We think, “If I was dating someone, I would have something to do on Friday nights.” If this is our motivation, it probably means we aren’t in the relationship because we care about the other person, but instead, we only care about what the other person can give. Which leads us to put pressure on them to always care for our needs and serve us. This sets up the relationship to be life-taking instead of life-giving.

We Are Incomplete Without Them

Matt Chandler often refers to the unfortunate, famous line, “You complete me,” from Jerry Maguire to have set up false assumptions for relationships. The over romanticized idea goes like this: if we can just get with this guy or girl, everything in our life will make sense. They will give us meaning. They will fix all of our past problems. They will be the answer to what’s missing in our life. But the truth is, they’re sinners just like we are. Going into a relationship where we place all of our hope on the other person saving the day is ultimately going to crush them. Then, in turn, it’s going to crush us.

No other fallen individual is going to be able to offer us the satisfaction we long for. Only Christ offers true satisfaction. And he doesn’t just complete us; he”transforms us into his image with ever increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Not only does he transform us, but he never changes. His desires are always for our good. Once again, another person, at some point in the relationship, is going to only have what’s best for them in mind. They will change. They will hurt us. So when looking for a relationship, let’s rework the idea of ‘You complete me,”to “You push me towards Jesus.”

“Don’t ask others to be more than they were designed to be; they will fail you. Put your hope in God, not in men” – Matt Chandler

We Are Tired of Being Single

In our culture, singleness is normally portrayed as an unfortunate period of time. The common idea is to push through it, and God will bless us in the end with someone. Well here’s the deal, singleness needs to be seen as a blessing from God as well. So many young adults feel they aren’t doing something right if they are single. It’s seen as a problem. But we need to rethink this idea. God gives us periods of singleness as a gift. Paul even said in 1 Corinthians 7:7 that he “wishes that all were as I myself am,” single for life. If we are single, let’s not rush out of the season just to be with someone. We are given singleness to learn to find contentment in Christ, to learn who we are as an individual, and to learn to pursue holiness before we pursue a relationship. With this in mind, let us not rush out of singleness just to be in a relationship, but instead, let us rest in God’s timing and enjoy the git of singleness.

We Have Done All the Right Things

“God, I’ve done good, so I think it’s about time you give me a relationship.” This might be the most prevalent thought of all, and it also might be the most severe that we must fight. At the root of this thought is this: we think God owes us something.That God can be indebted to us after we “do good.” But God does not work through negotiations. We don’t come to God saying, “I’ll do that if You give me this.” Unfortunately, we probably have all had this state of heart at some point. We have looked at others’ lives and told ourselves that we are a better person, and in turn, we have argued with God that we deserve someone more than they do.

In order to push against this idea, let’s bring ourselves back to these two truths: God owes us nothing, and we cannot put God in our debt. Now when we look at our love life through this lens, we see that its not about twisting God’s arm to make him give us what we want, but its about resting in his arms and wanting what he wants. And what he wants is our good (Romans 8:28). So that might mean we find our husband or wife in college, or that could mean we find them when we’re 60. That’s not our call. It’s his. Our call is to be obedient to his revealed will. Which strictly means this, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). It’s not our choice if a relationship will be added to us. It is our choice if we pursue God daily. If we do this, it does not promise us someone. But God does promise us his joy, which is far greater than any “love” some other person can offer.

Be You. Not a Version of Someone Else.

We all have role models. People we look up to and want to emulate every thing they have done. When we think about our future, we think about what steps they took and try to figure out how we can do the same. Many guys like myself who feel God calling them into ministry look up to men like Matt Chandler, David Platt, and Francis Chan. The tendency is to listen to the way these men communicate and tell ourselves that’s what successful preaching has to be. And then every sermon we prep is based upon a template of one of their sermons. But when it comes time for us to preach from the stage, we sound nothing like them. In fact, we sound nothing like our self. We have no clue what or how we are trying to communicate, and when this finally happens, we have to ask our self what are we doing? Why are we trying to be the next version of someone else instead of being the best version of ourself?

This is not something that only happens to young men with a desire to preach God’s word. It’s prevalent in every area of occupation. If you desire to be a journalist, a teacher, a politician, a doctor, or any of the other million jobs out there, you have someone in your mind you desire to be just like. Which in itself is actually a good thing. It gives us a target to aim for, a goal. We see the way they go about their work, and we want to learn from them. But the moment we step past just wanting to learn from them towards wanting to actually be them, we have lost sight of the fact that we are unique in God’s sight.

A Masterpiece

God works creatively through our lives, and perfectly forms us into the person he designed us to be. As Psalm 139:13 says, “You formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God is the creator of all things including each and every one of us. He is the artist, and we are the canvas that he is painting. And his painting started before we were even born. God already knew what his finished piece of art would look like, but as with every great artist, he knew the details of the process are what makes the work beautiful. And we are not just some offhand sketch. We are God’s magnum opus. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This word workmanship translates to mean: “a work of art or a masterpiece.” Paul does not say here that a select number of people were created and labeled his masterpiece. But it says we all were created and pronounced to be God’s greatest work of art.

Uniquely Made

Not only are we God’s masterpiece, but we are unique and known by God. We have a story that only we have lived out. No one else knows what we have been through, except God. As Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” God has been preparing us to and molding us into the beautiful image he wants to make out of us. He did not create us to live just like some other successful person, but he created us to live in way only we ourselves could. Our past experiences do not define us, but they have brought us to where we are today. Our past mistakes do not disqualify us, but they are lessons that only we have learned. Our past successes do not carry us to victory today, but they have taught us how to handle God’s favor. Our past experiences are God’s brush strokes forming the outline of his calling on our life. They give us the worldview by which we live out the rest of our life in a specific way only we can.

Be Different

So instead of mimicking someone else, notice how God has uniquely gifted you and pursue that gifting. We all “have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6), and the sooner we realize this, the better. Just because we have different giftings than others does not mean we can’t look to them as role models anymore. Actually this frees us up to see both their successes and their failures. When we see both, we don’t just look to be like them, but we look to learn from them. We can draw from the good things they do and incorporate them into what we do, and we can look at what they have done poorly and make sure we don’t fall into the same mistakes. For me I used to look at the guys like Chan, Platt, and Chandler and wish I could be them, especially with their sphere of influence and fame. You probably look up to someone who has a popular following as well. One thing for us to remember is this: success is not a number. It is faithful labor. So let us not tell the artist how we think the painting should look. But instead, let us get to know the artist so deeply that we understand the intention of his masterpiece.

College is Your Time

College is the time to explore yourself. Its the time to have experiences that you will never forget. This time is about you. After these four years, you’re going to have to be in the real world. Don’t worry about responsibility and be free.

This is a general idea of college for our culture. We see it depicted in entertainment as a period of life with loose morals and risky decisions all while obtaining a degree to use later on in life. And often times, that is how we view college. Simply put, we think college is our time. No more parents to tell us what to do. No more curfew. No one looking over our shoulder. There’s freedom for us to make our own choices, and unfortunately, we tend to think that they don’t come with consequences. Many students get to their senior year and have their lack of responsibility catch up with them. For some of us, it will be years down the road that our decisions now will impact us. But I can promise you one thing: your decisions now affect your future.

Exploration is Your Preparation

Those first statements about college are not a bad mindset to have toward college. Honestly, we need to have this mindset, but it needs to be paired with an eternal perspective as well. So yes, college is a time that you are given limited responsibilities and a whole lot of free time, but why? Well lets take a look at Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 which says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted.” God is the creator of all things, and he is the one who designed our college years to give us more free time than we’ll ever have. And he has given us this season to plant in expectation of the future. Now when we see the time he has given us through this lens, we see we should be using it to prepare for the future. Just as a farmer plants an apple seed and an apple tree grows, the habits we form now are the seeds that will soon grow into a tree later in our life. But whatever we plant now, will come to harvest in the future. So the question we have to ask is what are the seeds I’m planting that will soon shape the fruit of my life in the future? Here are a few areas I think God wants us to prepare ourselves for now, so we will be well equipped to be used by him in the future.

Our Relationship with God

Sadly, this area of life is one of the first things to go when people get to campus. We tend to get this mindset of “I’ll go back to God after my college years. This is my time.” My question is how are you just going to jump right back into that relationship? Relationships with other people are hard enough in and of themselves, but I never take a four year break from a friend and then pick right back up where we left off. If you stop hanging out with someone and start hanging out with other people, you’re going to change. The same goes for your relationship with God. If you are not hanging out with God regularly, you are not going to be like Him. And when you finally do run back him again like a long lost friend, your not going to have anything in common except “the good ole days,” and who knows if you will see them as that.

The truth about college is that it is the crossroads of your relationship with God. You’re finally on your own, and you no longer live off of your family’s spirituality. God puts you through the fire, and you truly see whether your faith is true or not. One way to prepare and pursue God with your whole heart is found in John 15 where Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you.” The word abide translates to “remain, stay, wait for, keep on.” This shows us that to lay the foundation for our future relationship with God means we must be pursuing a relationship with God now. Not just a casual say hey every now and then relationship, but instead, a relationship that dictates all our other relationships. For many of us, we envision our family in the future, and we want it to be a beautiful, Jesus-loving family. But that starts with us being a Jesus-pursuing college student right now. Even more than that, God wants us to create a habit of abiding in Him. He wants us to start recklessly pursuing Christ in our college years, so we can live a full life to Him.

Our Relationship with Our Future Spouse

A misconception that comes along with your college years is that you will go on many dates, meet your future husband or wife, and be married as soon as you graduate. But that’s the exception. It’s not wrong. It just is not how it normally goes. God did not give us this time to find a spouse or for us to be single. He gave it to us so we can be satisfied and content in Him. We must understand this before we can be ready to pursue a relationship with another person. Truly, the key to preparing yourself to be in a relationship with someone else is to pursue God and your relationship with Him. If not, you are going to enter into a relationship with another person and look to them to find your contentment and joy which they cannot fulfill. As Paul Tripp says, “The cross of Jesus Christ is the epicenter of hope in every relationship.” As God begins to show you that you are ready for a relationship, keep your future spouse in mind. Just because you are in a relationship with someone, doesn’t mean you are going to marry them. So don’t give away what God wants you to save for marriage. This isn’t just sexually. Think emotionally and spiritually.

Our Calling

As you are spending time with God, He is going to reveal to you a passion that you can not escape. Its what you day dream about. Its what you read about. It consumes you. This is your calling. Maybe it will be your full-time career, or what your full-time career helps support, but whatever it is God has wired you specifically for this calling. As Romans 11:29 says, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Now this is talking about God’s call of salvation, but I believe with that is a specific calling for each of us. And that goes hand in hand in the gifts God has given you. Paul writes anxiously to the Corinthians, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uniformed.” What Paul is saying here is that God has given each and every one of us a unique desires and skills to be used by Him, and there is not a better time than our college years to figure out what they are and develop them. Some of us know exactly what God has called us to, and if you do, find every way possible to learn and get involved with whatever that it is. No matter what our calling is, one way we can prepare is by doing our best in our classes. This will teach us discipline, and how to motivate ourselves in burdensome situations. For some of us, we have no clue what God wants us to do with our life. The best way to prepare for the unknown is allow ourself to become well rounded. We need to try different things. Put ourself in new environments. Stretch ourselves. God does not use the qualified. He qualifies who He uses. So put yourself in any and every situation to be used by God.

Don’t Waste Your Summer

SummerFinals just ended. Friends are hanging out by the pool. Beach trips are being planned. Pale bodies are being burnt by the sun. Its summertime.
 
Summer as a college student is a unique time in our lives. It is full of fun, relaxation, spontaneous nights, and many great memories. But unfortunately, going right along side all of this are missed opportunities. We seem to have engrained in our minds that summer time is our time. We see it as break from not just school but everything, and a lot of times we tend to take a hiatus from our relationship with God as well. During this time we see our church attendance as unnecessary. We put off spending time with God until there’s nothing else to do. We take a step back from serving others and begin to look at our own desires. Everything gets placed behind our life.
 
Why does summer do this to us? Well, summer strips us of our daily routine and the habits that we have created during school and replaces it with unstructured free time. When we have no structure to our day, our apathetic and lazy habits make their way into our daily schedule. We spend our days playing countless hours of Xbox, watching entire seasons of Netflix, laying by the pool with no purpose, and filling our time with no productivity. Now, none of these things are bad in and of themselves, but what they reveal is our apathetic hearts. The devil not only tempts us into acts of sin but also tempts us to be idle in pursuing righteousness. I am saying this because this a huge struggle for myself, and I am continually having to fight the urge to be unproductive and lazy, especially with my walk with God.
 
In order to combat laziness this summer, we need to do as Paul instructs the Ephesians to do when he tells them to, “look carefully then how you walk, not as the unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). I want to challenge you to “look carefully how you walk” this summer. If we never take a step back and assess our lives, we will never see where we can improve. So throughout this summer, we should be asking ourselves questions to examine how we are walking. Where is our heart? Are we making the best use of our time? Are we pursuing God diligently? Is our time being used for our enjoyment or the betterment of others in Christ? Simply, are we wasting our summer?
 
We often say we just don’t have enough time to spend time with God daily, but in reality, it is just a misplacement of our time. For example, think about your normal day by the pool. How often do we check Twitter or Facebook on our phones, and waste a large amount of time being unproductive? Instead of laying by the pool sleeping or sporadically checking our phones, what if we put our phones away and pulled out our Bible, a book, or a journal? Many times, it is not where we spend our time that leads to apathy, but instead, it is how we fill our free time wherever we are. 
 
Not only are we lax with our relationship with the Lord, but we also tend to put our dreams and passions behind the fun and games of summer. During the school year, we are doing all we can to prepare for what the future holds, but when it comes to summer, we feel like we need to take a break. But what if we used this free time as an opportunity to pursue our passions and dreams. God wants us to be proactive and prepare for what the future holds. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” When God gives us a summer full of free time, will we spend any of it sharpening our axe?
 
So what do you want to accomplish this summer?
 
Do you have a passion you’ve always wanted to pursue? Chase after it.
 
Do you have a stack of books you’ve been wanting to read? Write out a summer reading list and then carve out time to read them.
 
Is there a ministry you have been wanting to be a part of? Go and begin to serve along side them.
 
Do you have ideas swirling around your head? Go buy a journal and make a goal to fill it cover to cover by the end of the summer.
 
In all of these things, if we don’t set goals and plan our time to accomplish them, we will fall into the easiest choice, and that is to do nothing. We have to set standards and goals for ourselves. Maybe you give yourself a goal to read through the entire New Testament. Maybe you challenge yourself to finish a certain amount of books. Maybe you take a month long break from social media to free up your time to spend doing things you really care about. Each of our goals will look different, but no matter what they are we have to fight to accomplish them because our innate desire will always be to take the easier road of apathy.
 
Summer is a break from many things, but not a time to take a break from God. Pursue Him and the passions He has given you. You will not regret it.

Patience is a Process

The Dark Room
We all have a specific calling for our life. Some of us know what that is already, and others of us are struggling to find out what that calling is. Either way we both have an idea of where we want to end up in life. For some of us, we want to be the next great doctor or nurse who uses their medical expertise to provide health care to impoverished people across the world. While there are others who desire to use their artistic talent to change the world through media and music. Some, like myself, feel called to preach and teach God’s word and build up the church. All of these careers and passions are different, but they also have one thing in common: it takes time to get where we want to be. As college students, we are at the very beginning of our professional careers and have limited experience under our belt. Our resume is full of overstated job responsibilities in order to fluff up our application because simply, we don’t have much to put on there. But in line with our culture, we don’t want to have to wait to get our dream job, we want it now. We want to have set up our own medical mission clinic, be the president of our own firm, or be in the role of lead pastor at a large church. But unfortunately, that’s not how life works.

Our generation has been raised to have an “entitled” mindset. What I mean by this, as Kevin DeYoung puts it, is, “We expect people to affirm us for everything, criticize us for nothing, and pay us for anything we do.” We were raised during the time when parenting’s buzzword was “self-esteem.” Showing children unconditional love and the idea of being valued simply because “you are you” reigned in schools and homes. Children were constantly praised while criticized for very little. At the end of basketball games, everyone received an award, and no one lost. Teachers curved grades to make a “C” the new “F” (Aspen Education). Growing up was less about learning (growth?), and became more about feeling good about yourself. This has lead a common thinking of our generation to expect things handed to us without working for them (this is not true for everyone, but an overall generalization). So when we hear verses such as Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” we want God to perfectly lead us to arrive at the end of His plan instead of having to walk through it ourselves.

The Dark Room
Christine Caine gives great insight in her Passion 2014 talk when she confirms this idea by saying we are a “snap and upload” generation. We can take a picture in the matter of seconds and have it uploaded for others to see just as fast. She then points out how we are foreign to the idea of a dark room, which is where film used to be developed. When film was developed, it was a process that took many hours, sometimes even days. Not only does it take time, but it happens in the dark. This is because the light would destroy the image that is on the film. For us, the dark room is the days of waiting, while the light is the arrival at the fulfillment of God’s plan that would destroy us because we would not be prepared to walk in it. We want God’s plan now, instead of wanting to wait on God’s timing to make us the man or woman prepared to handle the responsibilities He has for us.

Godly Patience

So what does it look like to have Godly patience in the dark room? Well, let’s take a look at the life of David. Here is a “man after God’s own heart.” A man who wrote many of the Psalms. And a man God chose to be king of His people. But what we can very easily overlook is David’s process of coming to the throne. In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel walks into the house of Jesse, and God anoints David to be the king of Israel at the age of 17. For some of us, this is around the same age when God revealed our calling to us. But here’s the key to the story. It took David 20 years to finally come to the throne. David was anointed at the age of 17, but was not appointed until he was 37. During the years in between, he had experiences that ranged from being loved by Saul, the king, and living in his palace all the way to being pursued by Saul and was in fear of losing his life. He went through trials and tribulations which lead to many of the sorrowful Psalms we read today. But in the end, God placed him on the throne with a life full of experiences that taught him to fear the Lord and lead a nation.

For many of us, we don’t want to have to go through the process. We just want to arrive at the end destination. Even more, we think it is unfair that we have to wait. We feel God is being slow to fulfill His plan in our life. But hears a Biblical truth that combats that thinking: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9). We may think we know what we want, but God knows what we need. If our life went according to our plan and our timing, we would be placed in a position that would destroy us. We would not have the experience and ability to fulfill our role. In David’s circumstance, the throne would have destroyed him, or even more, he would have lead Israel to destruction. So the definition of patience states, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” I think to understand God’s definition we have to add to that James 1:4 which says, “And let patience have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The goal of our patience is to make us more and more like Christ which enables God to use us most effectively for His work.

Progress in the Midst of Waiting

So God’s plan is a process. We never get to the end goal without taking steps that prepare us along the way. Some of those steps are going to end in failure, but they will teach us. Something to remember in this is that “progress is progress, no matter how small. Sometimes progress is your efforts, not your results.” So as you are looking towards your calling, don’t see the process as something you are just getting through. It is God’s plan for you. The process is just as much your calling as is the end. So take the smaller jobs. Take the internships where you are just simply observing. You are not high up in management or calling the shots, but you are learning. You are going to learn what works, and what does not work which can be painful. But as C.S. Lewis says, “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.” You will look back years from now and remember those tough jobs and thank God for what you learned through them. But no one wants to sit and wait and learn. We want to do and lead and teach. The same goes for athletes. No one wants to practice while everyone wants the spotlight. But without practice, there is no greatness on the field. During practice is where we teach our body muscle memory, so when we are in the heat of the game, we don’t think about what to do. It just happens. This is exactly what God is doing with us now. Don’t think of it as waiting. Think of it as God’s training. He’s preparing your heart with muscle memory to glorify Him and love Him. So let’s put in the effort, so we can give glory to God with our lives.

Holiness is the End Goal

So what’s the point of the dark room? It’s to produce a beautiful picture. Its the same with Godly patience. The goal of our waiting is to produce the beautiful image of Christ on our hearts. Slowly, the image will be made clearer and clearer, but it is through endurance in the faith. As 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “It is God’s will that you should be holy.” This means that no matter if you are in the beginning stages of the process, or the end, there is a purpose for it all: to pursue God and glorify Him. So no matter where you are, your pursuit of the Lord should be constant.

Our Need for God’s Word (Death of Me)

Death of Me

Do you ever feel you don’t have the time in the day to spend time with God? Or that you have nothing left at the end of the day? We live in a fast-paced, hectic world. It seems like everyone around us is going a mile a minute, and a very common response to the question of how are you doing is: “I’ve been extremely busy.” It almost seems like we are working ourselves to death. In college, we are going from activity to activity, and when we finally make it to the end of the day, it feels like we survived a whirlwind. As college students, we have the most free time we’ll ever have, but we also tend to fill every second of it and in turn, have no down time. This leads us to spend time always surrounded by other people, but we seem to neglect finding time to spend with God, alone. A lot of times we tell ourselves we will spend time with Him later in the day, but it never happens. We get in a habit of trying to grow our faith from quotes and Bible verses from Twitter instead of going to God’s entire word where the psalmist says we will grow “like a tree planted by streams of water.” Why do we think we can have a relationship with God outside from spending time in His Word? If we say we are Christians, the one constant in our daily schedule should be time with God through His Word and prayer.

I became convicted of my apathy toward spending time with God while listening to Andy Mineo’s song Death of Me. Andy is a Christian hip hop artist who God has given the gift to share honest, transparent truth in the form of great hip hop music. He will blow your mind with his skill while rocking your heart with truth. In this song, he is describing how his life has changed over the past couple years. He is now on the road almost full time with a growing career, and what does he choose to rap about: how he fears he is losing himself in the midst of it all, especially his relationship with God. So maybe you feel you’re losing yourself in the midst of a crazy busy lifestyle. If you are, I wanted to elaborate on what I learned from Andy’s story and share some ways we can change this pattern in our lives.

Jesus Retreated

“Jesus retreated to speak with his Father
I know that I need it
My career been growing
But tell me where I’m going if my time with God is depleted”

This is where we must start whenever we examine our life: looking to the example of Jesus. During Jesus’ ministry, people were always wanting to spend time with him. Many times in scripture, we see people following Jesus everywhere he went. Whether it was asking him to heal them or simply to hear him talk, wherever Jesus went, there was a crowd. There was not much time for Jesus to casually slip away to a coffee shop and spend time with his Father. So what did he do? In Mark 1:35 it says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” It also says in Luke 6:12 that, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Simply put, Jesus left his daily routine, the crowds, and his schedule to spend time with God. Not just for short periods, but some times, the whole night.

No matter how busy we are, we probably don’t have the crowd surrounding us that Jesus did, but we do have the same need that he had: a need to commune with God. For us this will look different than Jesus, but the concept is the same. We might not have crowds following us, but we might have friends and roommates we are always with. This is how it is for me, and for the longest time, I thought it would be weird it I told my friends I couldn’t hang out for an hour because I needed to get in the Word. But once I did it, I realized how understanding they were, and what great conversations it can start. If we see another brother or sister spending time with God, it will motivate us to withdraw from the business of the world to grow our relationship with God.

Do We Talk More about God or with God?

“God, I’m sorry, I mean it
All I want to do is walk with you but
My priorities wrong,
I talk about you more than I talk with you”

This line hit me real hard. I tend to have many “God-centered” conversations throughout the day and even talk about God in the midst of ministry, but although God desires this of us, he desires much more for us to spend time with him personally. When we talk about God more than spending time with him, it is like a husband talking about how much he loves his wife but never making time to spend with her. God desires us to share what we learn from him, and for us to share our faith with others. But if we talk about God without spending time with him, there is no substance behind our words. Zechariah 8:16 says for us to, “speak the truth to one another,” but how will we know the truth if we never read it for ourselves? God desires for us to live off of his words, and not just our own opinions, or the opinions of others.

One trend as college students is for us to talk about opinions of famous pastors or authors like John Piper, Matt Chandler, or C.S. Lewis more than actually talking with God ourselves and seeing what God has to say about himself (this is from personal experience). A lot of times when talking about our faith we use them as evidence why we believe a certain truth, but we need to know and discover these truths for ourselves. Instead of drawing from someone else’s experience, we need to spend time with God and tell others what he has been teaching us. When we spend time with God, our conversations with others will be backed up with personal experiences.

Its not Complicated, Just Costly

“One of my mentors taught me
Whenever things get foggy
If you wanna grow in God
It’s not complicated,
It just costly”

The solution to our neglect of time with God is very simple: make the time. This is not the answer many people want to hear. Its the same answer as working out or training yourself for anything, you have to make sacrifices and put in the hard work. So how do we do this? We do as Jesus did. We wake up earlier in the morning and start our day in his Word. We choose time with God over time with friends. Instead of watching TV, we open our Bibles. So many times, when “things gets foggy,” we turn to friends, movies, and all sorts of other things while God tells us in Psalm 19:7-8 that “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” We also are very good at scheduling to make time for God, but not following through. A.W. Tozer says to this, “If you want to be holy then you must give time to God and not just intend to.”

The Christian life is a fight, and we must daily train ourselves to be prepared. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Notice the reasoning behind scripture is to train us in righteousness. God’s desire for us when we read scripture is to be disciplined and molded into being like him.

So let us “look carefully then how we walk…making the best use of our time” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

The Lie of “Finding God’s Will”

Finding God's Will

What is God’s will for your life? This question tends to haunt us while we go through our college years. We struggle through it by choosing our major, deciding where we will spend our summer, figuring out where to go to grad school, and so many other decisions. If you are like me, anxiety creeps up on you every time you think about your future plans. But why do we get so anxious? For me, I start thinking about how I have one opportunity at every decision I make, and when I choose one path, I am saying no to another. But how do I know the path I choose is the right one? The phrase we have all heard in answer to this question is we need to find God’s will for our life. And for the past 21 years, I thought I had to keep praying for God to open my eyes to the will he had laid out for me. That if I just kept searching long enough and hard enough, I would know exactly what I was supposed to do in the future. But Kevin DeYoung blew up this idea for me while I was reading his book Just Do Something.

We Never Find God’s Will for Our Future 

In the beginning of the book, DeYoung says,  “We should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” This rocked my world. I always thought that if I made a wrong decision or took a wrong turn, I would be removed from God’s plan. But what he is saying here is that we are free from the burden of trying to discover God’s will ahead of time. It is not a maze for us to perfectly navigate in order to reach our end goal, but instead, God desires for us to trust Him with all of the twists and turns. Yes, God is sovereign over my life. Yes, He has specific plans for my future, but He does not expect me to find out the details of His plan before I get there. So this whole idea of finding God’s will for my life has been me searching for something God does not want to reveal. But why does He choose to withhold His plans from us?

An Unknown Future Leads to Faith in a Known God

If we knew every step and detail of our lives, there would be no reason for us to have faith in God. When times get tough, we realize we need someone greater than ourselves to direct where we are going. That’s why God doesn’t want us to know the perfect road He has laid before us. It would be like someone spoiling the incredible plot twist of Fight Club or Inception. What makes the story great is the  confusion and uncertainty, and then in the end, every puzzle piece comes together to create a beautiful picture. Not only does God have an epic plot for your life, but He wants you to trust in Him. God has given us these tough decisions not to be stressed out but to make us realize we can’t do this on our own. He gives us more than we can handle, so we are forced to lean in on Him to find strength. Just as Provers 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” So instead of praying to find God’s will, let’s start praying to find faith in God’s guidance.

God’s True Will for Our Lives

Now if we never find God’s will for our future, then what is Paul talking about in Ephesians 5:17 when he says, “Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is?” What Paul is describing here is a different definition of God’s will than we normally think about. Many times, we only think of God’s will for our life in regards to the future, but there’s so much more to it! No matter what your future plans are, God wants you to seek and glorify Him right now. Simply put, God’s will is your growth to be like Christ and glorify Him in all things. We need to do away with the idea that He wants us to go to Him in order to find out our future. Instead, God wants us to go to Him to be transformed in our heart and mind. God’s past, present, and future plans for your life have one constant: His glory. And if God has transformed our hearts, our decisions will be made with His glory in mind. As DeYoung says, “God is not a Magic 8-ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him.”

So Make Decisions With Confidence

So what does this mean for the decisions we are making right now? Well, if God has given us a new heart that desires what He desires, our decisions are going to line up with His plan. We work through these decisions with the wisdom He gives us through the Spirit. One thing I do want to point out is that God doesn’t reveal His plan to us, but He does gives us passions He wants us to pursue. We will never find the perfect road God has laid out, but He will give us desires He wants us to chase after. Find those passions and pursue them. Make decisions and stand firm in them. If you change your major, be confident in God that it was the right decision. On this DeYoung says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going.” Have faith in God and trust in Him. God is bigger than your major. God is bigger than your job. And God is a whole lot bigger than the worry you have about your future.

 

Are We Too Connected? (iSlaves)

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Have you ever left your house without your phone? If you have, you know the feeling of awkwardness as if you have lost your lifeline to the world. Questions start swirling in your head like “How is anyone going to be able to call me?” “What am I going to do without texting” or “What am I going to do in class without Twitter?” These are all legit questions, but if we take a step back and examine our habits, we have let our phones take hold of our lives.

Over this winter break, I had the opportunity to travel around Europe with a couple of friends. While we were there, we turned off all cellular data on our phone and could only connect to the internet through WiFi. What this meant was a whole lot of time not worrying about who texted us, what others were tweeting, or what picture we should post on Instagram. This time allowed all of us to live in the moment without a phone in our hand trying to document every experience we had or sight we saw. During this time, we sat at lunch and had actual conversations. When on the subway, we were able to ask questions about each other’s lives. For the first time in a long time, our phone was not dictating what we did.

A Too Connected Generation

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone. I posted plenty of pictures on Instagram and even tweeted about my days in Europe, but my time on my phone was limited. When we were sitting at lunch one day, we all began to realize how great it was to be disconnected. This conversation lead us to realize just how dependent on our phones we are, and how often times, we use them to portray the “fun” we had hanging out with our friends. But in actuality, that fun was just one picture taken for the sole purpose of social media, and the rest of the night we were constantly on our phone checking how many likes that photo received. Instead of hanging out with the friends right in front of us, we were preoccupied seeking the approval of those who follow us in the digital world. Many have dubbed us as the most connected generation. We have information in our hands in the matter of seconds and can communicate with others thousands of miles away, yet studies show that even as it has its advantages, it also leads to isolation, unproductively, and ultimately, making our lives more complicated (Chicago Tribune). I would argue that we are a generation too connected to our phones to be truly connected with people.

Wherever you are, be all there

When I got home from Europe, I came across this quote from Jim Elliot that says, “Wherever you are, be all there.” This hit me hard because as I was thinking about my phone use, I thought about how it draws me away from the present. Every time I pick up my phone, I’m giving less attention to what’s in front of me than what is on my screen. How many times have I neglected a conversation with someone else in order to check my phone? How many times have I given someone only half of my attention because I was more concerned about a text conversation? People need to hear the gospel, and in order to do that, they need to be fully engaged with. One of the simplest ways to show someone you care about them is to keep your phone at bay tip while you are with them.  We need to engage with the people around us, and have real, uninterrupted conversations. People need to hear the gospel. Let’s not be too distracted to tell them about it.

False Reality

Another thing we came to realize was how the digital world has become a new avenue for finding acceptance in others. Think about how often you look at the likes on Instagram or the favorites on Twitter. We have bought into the lie of a false reality. We do everything we can to get the aesthetics of photo right, edit it to bring out all the color, and then post it for others to see a polished, ideal glimpse into our lives. This is not how life is though. We are portraying to others a false identity. Truthfully, we can make ourselves look like who ever we want on media. No one sees the bad, only the good. Our depictions of ourselves on social media is just like model who is photoshopped to remove all blemishes. Now I’m not telling you to stop using filters on Instagram, but I just want to point out that it really doesn’t matter how many likes or favorites your post receives. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have either. What matters is who you are outside of the social world. So lets take some time to disconnect from the false reality and let us invest our time making followers of Christ, not followers of our Twitter page.

Set Boundaries

This is not a blog post about how terrible social media. I think social media is a great tool to be used, but with limits. Every good thing can become sinful if we allow it to, and the same goes for social media. One of the ways we can protect ourselves from this is by asking God to give us self control and allow us to take practical steps to set boundaries. Some of these may include allowing yourself only a certain amount of time on your phone during the day. Or making it a personal goal to not be on your phone when you are with people. Something that was very helpful for me was fasting from social media for a month. It gave me a new perspective on how to view and use it (A Month Without Social Media). One thing a couple of my friends have done is simply take all social media off their phone, so before class they aren’t looking down on their phone, but instead, they are able to talk to their classmates, make new friends, and engage with those around them. Everyones boundaries will look different, but we all need them.

Live in the Present

Along the same lines as Jim Elliot’s quote, God made us to live life through experiences.  And social media should be used for only certain types of experiences, and it would do us good to think about what and why we post (5 Questions to Ask Before Posting to Social Media). As this article says, “Not every great moment needs to be shared. In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. If we suspend the present in an attempt to capture its beauty in 140 characters or less, we sacrifice our experience of the moment itself.” What makes an experience is not a picture; what makes a picture is the experience. Live the moments for yourself, not for the approval of others. Live life in the now, not for what you are going to post later.

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What We Can Learn from Buddy the Elf

Elf[Disclaimer: Of course, these are all corny and some are a stretch, but one thing I have been learning is that we can find metaphors of the Gospel everywhere, even in Elf. So have a laugh, and hopefully, God will even use this to bring you closer to him, but more than anything, I pray this leads you to see the Gospel everywhere and in everything, even in the life of Buddy the Elf.]

This year marks the 10 years since the day we were all introduced to Buddy the Elf. We have all fallen in love with the childish, oversized, man-elf who eats spaghetti and syrup for breakfast, gets hits by taxis while hopping across crosswalks, and draws the Mona Lisa on an Etch-A-Sketch in his free time. When Buddy steps into his father’s life, his father and family can’t help but change. Buddy brings Christmas cheer into the lives of others, and we should do the same with the Gospel in the lives of others. So here are some thoughts I had while watching Elf this Christmas.

1. Smile More

It seems like every time we see Buddy he has a smile on his face and is radiating happiness. No matter what the situation is, Buddy still finds joy. Buddy even says, “I just like to smile. Smiling is my favorite!” Those around Buddy can’t help but wonder why he is so happy, and many, in turn, have a better day just because they were around him. As Christians, we should be the most joyful people around. If Buddy has a smile on his face because he is full of “Christmas cheer,” then how much more should we be smiling since we are sons and daughters of the one who is the true reason for Christmas: Jesus.

In Christ we have the greatest hope for what lies ahead, and that should always lead us to see things of this world as momentary and always remember that we have joy that is eternal. Trials will come and go, but our satisfaction and joy should never change in Christ. We should always be wearing a smile, or at least have a positive outlook on life. When we encounter others, they should have a better day because they were around someone filled with the Spirit of joy that comes only from God.

2. Encourage Others on their Accomplishments

Buddy is walking down the street and sees a sign on the outside of a diner that reads Worlds Best Cup of Coffee, so what does he do? Buddy walks in and yells, “You did it! Congratulations! World’s best cup of coffee! Great job, everybody! It’s great to be here.” So many people walked by that diner and never gave that sign a thought, but Buddy gave them encouragement. As believers, we should always be looking for ways to compliment and encourage others, especially others in the faith. This world can be discouraging and many times we doubt ourselves, so even the smallest gesture of encouragement can change someone’s day. Especially with fellow brother and sisters, we need to encourage one another in the faith just as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11,  “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 

3. Let the Small Things in Life Make Your Day

When he is going to pick up Michael from school, Buddy is talking about his day when he says, “Good news! I saw a dog today!” How many times do we see a dog and just let it go? How many times do we see something great, but don’t take notice of it because it is something we see every day. This quote by Paul Hawken comes to mind,

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.”

God created this world with creativity and beauty all around us, and he wants us to be amazed by it and glorify him through it. Let’s take the small things seriously. Walk outside tonight and take in the stars and the sky lit up by the moon. Take your dog on a walk and glorify God for how happy your dog is just to run. Go for a drive. Watch the sunset. Simply enjoy God’s creativity in the small things.

4. Take an Interest in Others and Ask Them About Themselves

Our culture is very inward focused. We like to talk about ourselves, our days, and our plans in life. But God tells us to live for him  and others, and I love the way Buddy answers the phone when he is at work with Walter, “Buddy the Elf! What’s your favorite color?” Of course, that’s not exactly why Buddy asked that question, but it is a great reminder for us to ask other people questions for us to get to know them. A great thing to do in conversation with others is to have a couple of questions that will generate a discussion for you to get to know them. One thing we are great at is making small talk about trivial things. We can talk about the weather, sports, or the latest news story, but God wants us to care for others and know each other. Let’s focus on getting past surface level conversations and ask questions that will lead us to get to know one another more than who are favorite sport’s team is.

5. Live for Truth and Don’t Accept the Lies of the Devil

When Buddy sees the impostor Santa in Gimbel’s, he does not go along with the act, but instead, he calls him out by saying, “You sit on a throne of lies!” Buddy knew who the real Santa was, and he was not going to let this guy get away with dressing up like him and pretending he was him. Buddy knew the truth and was not going to stand for lies. This is how we should be with the truths of Scripture. There are people everywhere who are being fooled into believing a false religion that is dressed up to look like the real thing, but unfortunately, they are believing a lie and are not being truly satisfied by the true Gospel. We need to stand up to the lies of the devil, and let others know what they are hearing is not true and will not lead to them being saved.

Satan feeds us the same lies too. He will tell us we need to look like the world. That we need to let go of our faith and live for money, success, and the American dream. When we hear these lies, we need to tell Satan he sits on a throne of lies while our King sits on a throne of righteousness.

6. Be Proud You Know God

Even when people think he is crazy for saying he is from the North Pole, Buddy still screams, “SANTA’S COMING! I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!” when he hears he is coming to Gimbel’s. He is not ashamed that he knows Santa, but instead, he is unashamed and wants people to know Santa too. That’s how we should be with God. We have the greatest gift to give others in Christ, and for some reason we tend to keep it to ourselves. Let’s share that gift with others, no matter how crazy they think we are! If we heard Jesus was coming back tomorrow, what would our reaction be? Would we be as excited as Buddy? I hope we would do a lot more than yell and decorate a department store with decorations.

7. Tell Your Story, No Matter How Different it is from Everyone Else

When people ask Buddy how he got to New York, he tells them, “I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.” This story always gets an interesting reaction from people. Everyone looks at him like he is crazy, but it is his story. He lived it. That’s his testimony. If people are going to believe in the North Pole, Buddy has to talk about it as a real place. In the same way for us. If people are going to believe in God, we need to talk about him as a real person. When we share our story, we need to talk about God in real terms. Don’t use words that make him sound distant. Talk about him like he was right beside you, leading you in the midst of everything, because, well, he was! Often times scared to share our story because people are going to think we are different than them, but let’s not forget that’s the whole point of our testimony. We want people to see that God has given us a new and different life that is so much better than the life we were living before, without him.

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